For Craig Vogtsberger, his triathlon days really began years after his spinal cord injury in 2001. Now that he has an Allard BlueRocker, he’s feeling stronger than ever.
After swimming a mile in 66-degree water, mountain biking 22 miles and running five miles in the Physically Challenged Division of the XTERRA Buffalo Creek race on Aug. 24, he’s qualified for the XTERRRA USA Championship.
He’ll compete in Odgen, Utah, on Sept. 19 to defend his title. This is the eighth national XTERRA championship he’s qualified for and he’ll be participating as a member of TeamUP, the first national group of people with lower-leg paralysis who participate in sporting and non-sporting events to inspire others.
“I’m definitely getting on my mountain bike more. It’s high elevation there and mountains are very steep in Utah,” said Vogtsberger, 40, a resident of Highlands Ranch. “I have two weeks left to push myself.”
He uses an Allard BlueRocker ankle-foot orthosis brace, a hand-spun carbon fiber instrument with custom-fit straps and a footplate to get him going, he said. The everyday gadget gets plenty of use and he’s lucky to have a medium build for walking and running short distances and a larger fit for trail running.
After nearly seven years of doctors telling him he’d be stuck in a chair for the rest of his life, Vogtsberger had heard enough. He invested in Allard’s invention and became an award-winning paratriathlete.
But the road wasn’t easy.
Fourteen years ago, during a National Guard training camp in Maryland, he was pinned between two parked Humvees when a driver’s foot accidently slipped and hit the gas pedal.
“I was unconscious and my whole body was crushed,” Vogtsberger said. “I had a head injury and was told I’d have a full recovery. I got into that mindset and then realized everything I tried to do that I could do before, I could no longer do. I was reminded constantly of that and went downhill real quick mentally and emotionally.”
For five years he gave up. His spine would never be the same and his nerves were severely damaged, leaving his brain with no control over his foot. This led to a diagnosis of foot drop.
“I was done — I was disabled,” he said. “Then, I went to a local triathlon and I saw the people doing it — they were swimming and their families were all there cheering them. I made the decision to be done with my medicine and stop sitting on my (butt).”
When a doctor asked him what he wanted to do. His response was that he wanted to run and bike and be athletic again. The BlueRocker was ordered and his life was forever changed.
“They said put this on and run down the hallway,” Vogtsberger said. “The feeling I had when I first used it was phenomenal. I took five or six steps and said, ‘This is what I need.’”
This year has been a particularly tough one. The athlete was taken down by pneumonia in April, a black widow spider bite in May and throat surgery in June. Despite a series of unfortunate events, Vogtsberger is training his heart out by putting in time at the weight room and strengthening his core.
Friend and TeamUP “ambassador” Beth Deloria has been an inspiration, he said.
She was born with birth defects she never knew she had that slowly converged into foot drop deemed from a spinal cord injury. Deloria runs long-distance marathons and Vogtsberger said he doesn’t know how she does it.
“When I first started my journey I began raising awareness because I couldn’t find any information about footdrop at all,” Deloria said. “I met Craig through TeamUp and realized his struggle was way harder than mine. He seriously shouldn’t be alive right now, let alone be walking or running.”
Vogtsberger’s attitude is the best, because he allows everyone to share their stories to get a sense of life, she said.
“My life is so much more enriched because I’ve met him,” Deloria said. “He’s humble yet engaging. He makes the most of every second of every day and I don’t know anyone else on the planet who does that. We all achieve something for every one of his accomplishments.”
Vogtsberger said in all aspects of his life, he feels stronger. Physically, he still fights the pain, but triathlons give him the avenue to make peace with it all, he said.
His words resonate with everyone, disabled or not, Deloria said.
“Do what I did,” he said. “You have to get to that part in your mind where you’re tired of not doing anything. Get out and do something. Triathlons are my inspiration, but so is scuba diving, track and field and kayaking. People with disabilities need to do it all until they find that one thing that gets them out of bed in the morning.”
To meet more TeamUP members and learn about their efforts to help others manage footdrop, visit www.GetBackUPToday.com.